Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Forty years providing high-adventure ministry for high-risk youth

Camp Amnicon is Central Lutheran Church’s special ministry project to marginalized teens.

Forty years ago a generous couple donated several hundred acres of Lake Superior beachfront to Central Lutheran Church. John and Teresa Burtness wanted to see the urban Minneapolis congregation develop a ministry for center city kids who don’t get to see much of the great outdoors.
That’s how Camp Amnicon got its start. Originally intended to serve Central’s membership and young people in the near neighborhood, the camp evolved over ten years into a much larger program. These days only about 12% of the campers come from Central.

Alana Butler, one of Amnicon’s co-directors, told Metro Lutheran, “Our programs focus specifically on junior and senior high school youth. The ministry helps kids — especially those at risk — stay connected to the church.”
Butler says Amnicon offers more high-adventure camping than any other camp in the Lutheran Church. She estimates between 40-60% of the young people who come to camp are “at risk.” One-quarter are non-white. Many are sent through social service agencies looking for healthy experiences for kids who are failing socially.

Says Butler, “There are a lot of ways for kids to fail these days. We try to give them experiences that will help them succeed.”

“One way to guarantee a young person will succeed, “Butler maintains, “is to have seven adults in his life, individuals who know his name, and who care about him.” That, she says, is partly what Amnicon is really about.

What’s a “high adventure” camp experience? Amnicon offers a variety. There are canoe trips onto Lake Superior, taking campers to and around the nearby Apostle Islands. There are whitewater river trips. Ther are hiking and camping, away from the comforts of the camp. Campers are challenged physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. “Everything is done in small groups,” Butler explains. “The idea is to build community, trust and teamwork.”

Central Lutheran Church doesn’t have a large youth program these days, but along with the kids at risk, Amnicon accommodates any who come from the congregation for an outdoor experience. Still others come from other congregations.

“We get campers from church groups in Minne-sota and Wisconsin in pretty large numbers,” Butler says, “but in reality our campers come from all over. We’ve had them come from Georgia and Colorado.”

The program is run by three permanent staff, including Butler, her spouse, Simon Gretton, and Kelly Haldema. Meg Anderson, in a volunteer capacity, has been on staff for the past five years.

The key to the summer high-adventure program is the cadre of summer staff. There are usually a dozen guides, many of them Lutheran college students. They’re 21 years old, mature, first aid certified and CPR trained. They undergo a rigorous 17-day training at Am-nicon before the season launches.
Younger campers, grade 3 and older, come for three-day experiences. They sleep in tents on the beach. Older kids may stay for five days.

The camp also offers a guidance training program (three weeks in duration) for the training of future camp staff; and a “builder’s program” (two weeks) which brings volunteers handy with tools to the camp. They build cabins, trails and other structures on the lakefront campus.
Among the structures put up in recent years are hermitage cabins. They’re intended for use by pastors wanting to take personal retreats.

Butler thinks a camp like Amnicon is probably more expensive to run than many others. “This is not a traditional camp, and that makes it harder to fund it. We’re deliberately focusing on junior and senior high kids. It takes a lot of outreach energy, finding the money we need and the kids to come.”

The camp’s annual budget runs to a quarter million dollars. Central Lutheran pays most of the salaries and insurance for the operation. Camping fees from participants, or those who sponsor them, provide significant income. The camp itself does fund-raising for the difference.
A capital campaign is in the works, to meet three goals: 12 units of “adult-friendly” housing; a dining hall to replace one that’s become too small; and more hermitage units, along with funds to pay for some spiritual direction for those who come to use the cabins.

One major effort toward raising funds will be the annual “Packs and Paddles” benefit dinner on April 1 (see box below). An on-campus open house will be offered sometime this summer.

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Saturday, April 1, 5-8:30 p.m. Central Lutheran Church, 12th Street and Third Avenue, downtown Minneapolis. n Dinner, program, silent auction. n $25. Proceeds will go to general needs of the camp. n For details, call Camp Amnicon, 715/364-2602.